Russia-Ukraine latest updates: Leaders back EU path for Kyiv

Leaders of France, Germany, Italy and Romania back Kyiv’s bid to apply for European Union membership and pledge more arms to fend off the Russian invasion.

From left, Romanian President Klaus Iohannis, Prime Minister of Italy Mario Draghi, Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, France's President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz attend a conference at the Mariyinsky palace in Kyiv, Ukraine, Thursday, June 16, 2022.
European Union leaders meet with Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy (centre) in Kyiv [Natacha Pisarenko/AP Photo]
  • Ukraine says it has given visiting EU leaders sanctions proposals against Russia, calling on them to “increase pressure” on Moscow, including a gas embargo on Russia.
  • German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, French President Emmanuel Macron, Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi and Romanian President Klaus Iohannis meet Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on their first trip to Kyiv since the war started in February.
  • Russia announces it has banned 121 Australian citizens, including top journalists and defence officials, accusing them of “Russiaphobic agenda”.
  • Washington has announced an additional $1bn in security assistance to Ukraine, including more artillery and coastal defence weapons.

INTERACTIVE Russia Ukraine War Who controls what in Ukraine Day 112

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These were the updates on Thursday, June 16:

Russia must prevent execution: EU court

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) on Thursday told Russia to prevent the execution of a Moroccan man sentenced to death in a pro-Moscow separatist region of Ukraine for fighting on behalf of Ukrainian forces.

Brahim Saadoun, a Moroccan citizen born in 2000, was sentenced to death along with two British men by the unrecognised Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR), following his surrender to Russian forces in the conflict sparked by Moscow’s invasion of its neighbour.

Russia “should ensure that the death penalty imposed on the applicant was not carried out,” the court said its emergency ruling following a petition filed this month by a representative of Saadoun.

‘Gross violations’ took place in Mariupol: UN

The intensity and extent of the death and destruction in Mariupol suggested that “serious violations” of international humanitarian law and “gross violations” of international human rights law occurred during the battle for the Ukrainian city, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights has said.

Michelle Bachelet made the observation as she presented her agency’s report into the situation in Mariupol before the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.

She said that the “tragedy of Mariupol” was far from over and explained that the full picture of the devastation was not yet clear.

Local residents transport a box in Mariupol
Local residents transport a box on a wheelbarrow past a heavily damaged apartment building near Azovstal Iron and Steel Works, during Ukraine-Russia conflict in the southern port city of Mariupol [File: Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters]

US: Silos on Ukraine border would keep grain out of Russian control

Temporary silos on Ukraine’s border would be intended to prevent Russia from stealing Ukrainian grain and make sure the country’s winter harvest is not lost due to a lack of storage, US Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has said.

However, during a visit to the United Nations, Vilsack stressed that reviving shipments from Ukraine’s Black Sea ports was the most effective and efficient way to export grain and urged Russia to take UN-led talks on the issue “seriously”.

“We know of circumstances and situations where that has occurred – Russians having taken grain from Ukrainian farmers. So to the extent that we can get it out of the country, that is a plus that reduces the risk of loss,” Vilsack told reporters.

Macron says Kyiv will decide on potential territorial concessions

Ukraine alone should decide whether or not to accept any territorial concessions towards Russia in view of ending the war, French President Macron told TF1 television in an interview as he visited Kyiv.

“This is up to Ukraine to decide,” Macron said when asked what concessions, including on its territory, Ukraine should accept, adding, “I think it is our duty to stand by our values, by international law and thus by Ukraine.”

Zelenskyy hologram appeals for tech firm help

Ukraine’s President Zelenskyy referenced World War II and the movie Star Wars as he sought aid from big tech firms, appearing as a hologram at a conference in Paris.

He told a crowd of hundreds at the VivaTech trade show that Ukraine was offering technology firms a unique chance to rebuild the country as a fully digital democracy.

He asked for help on the terms of lend-lease – the way in which the United States helped the Allies during World War II, whereby aid was offered without payment but on the understanding that hardware would be returned.

“It’s unusual for presidents or heads of government to use a hologram to address people, but this is not the only aspect of Star Wars that we are putting into practice,” he said.

“We will defeat the empire, too,” he said, likening Russian troops to the villains in the Star Wars franchise.

Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy attends a press conference in Kyiv
Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy attends a news conference in Kyiv [Ludovic Marin/pool via AP Photo]

Russia lying over gas supply problems: Italian PM Draghi

Moscow is lying when it blames a recent fall in gas exports on technical problems, Italian Prime Minister Draghi has said.

“Both Germany and us, and others, believe these are lies. In reality, they are making a political use of gas like they are using grain for political use,” he said.

European leaders back Ukraine’s EU bid

The leaders of France, Germany and Italy back “immediate” European Union candidate status for Ukraine amid their ongoing visit to Kyiv.

“All four of us support the status of immediate candidate for accession,” French President Macron told a joint news conference with his EU colleagues.

Moreover, he said Ukraine must “resist and win” the war and has announced that France will donate six additional long-range artillery systems.

Leading EU official calls bloc’s expansion a ‘top priority’

European Council President Charles Michel in a visit to North Macedonia has said EU membership for the landlocked Balkan country and neighbouring Albania has become a “top priority” in light of the war in Ukraine.

“The war in Ukraine opened a new chapter in European history and put EU enlargement at the forefront,” Michel said at the joint news conference with North Macedonia’s President Stevo Pendarovski in the lakeside resort of Ohrid.

US defence chief ‘deeply proud’ of NATO progress

US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin has said that meetings with NATO’s defence ministers were highly productive, and that he took pride in the progress since the Russian invasion.

“As you look back at what’s happened since the 24th of February, members of the alliance have really stepped up. We rapidly deployed capability to the eastern flank in order to reassure our allies that we’re ready to defend every inch of NATO’s territory,” Austin said.

US hopes Europe also provides more aid to Ukraine: AJ correspondent

Al Jazeera’s Kimberly Halkett, reporting from Washington, DC, said the US is hoping its announcement of more military aid for Ukraine will “encourage its European partners to in turn do the same”.

“Even though Ukraine is not a member of NATO … there is this belief that there is an obligation on the part of NATO and all of the alliance’s member states to help Ukraine defend its sovereignty against Russia’s invasion,” Halkett said.

She added that Washington’s move was prompted by mounting concern that the Russians “are better manned in terms of numbers and equipped in terms of artillery” against the Ukrainian forces.

Ukrainian servicemen fire with a French self-propelled 155 mm/52-calibre gun Caesar towards Russian positions at a front line in the eastern Ukrainian region of Donbas on
Ukrainian servicemen fire with a French self-propelled 155 mm/52-calibre gun Caesar towards Russian positions at a front line in the eastern Ukrainian region of Donbas on June 15, 2022 [Aris Messinis/AFP]

Russia bans more than 100 Australians including journalists

Russia announced it has banned 121 Australian citizens, including top journalists and defence officials, from entering the country, accusing them of being part of a “Russophobic agenda”.

Among the sanctioned individuals were journalists from Australia’s ABC News, Sydney Morning Herald, Sky News and Nine Network, as well as businesspeople and various defence officials.

Peter Malinauskas, the premier of South Australia, mining magnate Gina Rinehart and armed forces chief General Angus Campbell were all included on the list, as were prominent TV personalities Liz Hayes, Stan Grant and Andrew Bolt.

Ukraine gives EU leaders sanctions proposals against Moscow

The head of Ukraine’s president’s office says his country has handed over sanctions proposals against Russia at a meeting in Kyiv between President Zelenskyy and the visiting leaders of several European nations.

“We must increase pressure on the aggressor, work on a seventh package of sanctions with a gas embargo,” Andriy Yermak wrote on Telegram.

ICC prosecutor aims to show war criminals cannot escape justice

The chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court has said he hopes his war crimes investigation in Ukraine would show there can be no escape from justice during conflicts.

Visiting Ukraine as part of the investigation into alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity since the war started, ICC Chief Prosecutor Karim Khan described the country as a crime scene. He said his team had gathered evidence of many alleged crimes, including sexual offences, crimes against children, torture and mistreatment of prisoners, but gave no details.

Elena Holovko is attended to as she sits outside her home, damaged by a Russian missile strike, in Druzhkivka in eastern Ukraine, Sunday, June 5, 2022
Elena Holovko is attended to as she sits outside her home, damaged by a Russian missile attack, in Druzhkivka in eastern Ukraine [File: Bernat Armangue/AP Photo]

Scholz says Zelenskyy to take part in G7 summit

Zelenskyy will take part in this month’s Group of Seven (G7) summit, the German chancellor has said on Twitter.

Scholz thanked the Ukrainian leader for “accepting my invitation to participate in the G7 summit” being held from June 26 to 28 in the German Alpine resort of Schloss Elmau.

Zelenskyy, who is not believed to have left Ukraine since the start of the war, was expected to join the leaders by video link.

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Italy’s Eni says Gazprom supplying 65 percent of requested gas

Italian energy giant Eni said it will receive only 65 percent of the gas requested from Gazprom due to problems at the Russian company’s Portovaya compression station.

Eni said it had asked for 44 percent more gas than on Wednesday, when the supply was cut by 15 percent, and “Gazprom announced that only 65 percent of the requested volumes will be delivered”, a spokesman said.

UK sets out new Russia sanctions against Patriarch Kirill

Britain has sanctioned the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill, for “his prominent support of Russian military aggression in Ukraine”.

The statement added that four senior military officials from a unit “known to have killed, raped, and tortured civilians” in the Ukrainian town of Bucha were also sanctioned.

“We are targeting the enablers and perpetrators of Putin’s war who have brought untold suffering to Ukraine, including the forced transfer and adoption of children,” Britain’s Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said in a statement.

Three people killed in Lysychansk

At least three people were killed and seven were injured after a building was hit in Lysychansk in an air attack in the eastern Luhansk region, local authorities said on social media.

A local man walks next to a building damaged by a military strike, as Russia's attack on Ukraine continues, in the town of Lysychansk, Luhansk region, Ukraine June 10, 2022.
A man walks next to a building damaged by a military raid, as Russia’s attack on Ukraine continues, in the town of Lysychansk, Luhansk region [Oleksandr Ratushniak/Reuters]

Russia to delay some climate projects

Russia will have to delay the implementation of some climate-related projects due to restrictions on supplies of foreign equipment, but will stay in the Paris climate accord, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Viktoria Abramchenko told Reuters news agency.

Abramchenko said Russia plans to harvest about 130 million tonnes of grain in 2023, on par with the current year, while the government has no plans to change grain export duty. She added that the government does not plan to alter the grain export tax formula.

She also denied accusations that Russia was transporting grain from the Ukrainian territories it now controls.

European leaders meet Zelenskyy

The leaders of Italy, France, Germany and Romania sit for a face-to-face talk with Zelenskyy. Images showed the four leaders in business suits sitting around a wooden table with the Ukrainian leader in his customary khaki T-shirt.

(L-R) Chancellor of Germany Olaf Scholz, President of France Emmanuel Macron, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, Prime minister of Italy Mario Draghi and Romanian President Romanian President Klaus Iohannis pose for a photograph in Mariinsky Palace, in Kyiv, on June 16, 2022. - It is the first time that the leaders of the three European Union countries have visited Kyiv since Russia's February 24 invasion of Ukraine
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, French President Emmanuel Macron, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi and Romanian President Klaus Iohannis pose for a photograph in Mariinsky Palace, in Kyiv, on June 16, 2022 [Sergei Supinsky/AFP]

Russia’s war of ‘unimaginable cruelty’: Scholz

The Ukrainian town of Irpin, like Bucha before it, has become a symbol of the “cruelty” of Russia’s war in Ukraine and its senseless violence, German Chancellor Scholz said on a visit to the Kyiv suburb, adding that the war must end.

“Irpin, like Bucha, has become a symbol of the unimaginable cruelty of the Russian war, of senseless violence,” Scholz wrote on Twitter. “The brutal destruction of this city is a warning: this war must end.”

Former Russian leader derides EU leaders’ visit

Russia’s former President Dmitry Medvedev has mocked three European heads of state visiting Ukraine: “European fans of frogs, liverwurst and spaghetti love visiting Kiev. With zero use,” he said on Twitter, referring to three stereotypes linked to France, Germany and Italy.

Medvedev was president of Russia from 2008 to 2012 and is currently deputy chair of the National Security Council.

The leaders’ trip would have “zero use”, he wrote. They “promised EU membership and old howitzers to Ukraine, lushed up on gorilka [Ukrainian alcoholic drink] and went home by train, like 100 years ago”.

“Yet, it won’t bring Ukraine closer to peace. The clock’s ticking.”

Kremlin says Western arms ‘useless’

The Kremlin warns against new Western weapons supplies, saying it would be “absolutely useless”.

“I would like to hope that the leaders of these three states and the President of Romania will not only focus on supporting Ukraine by further pumping Ukraine with weapons,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said, adding that it would be “absolutely useless and will cause further damage to the country”.

Battles ‘fought for every house’ in Severodonetsk

Serhiy Haidai, governor of the eastern region of Luhansk says Russian forces have concentrated all their reserves to capture Severodonetsk.

“Fierce battles are fought for every house in the city,” Haidai said in his daily briefing, adding that Ukrainians need long-range artillery to push back Russian forces.

INTERACTIVE - Severodonetsk bridges - June 14

Russia says ready for peace talks, blames Kyiv for stalling: Interfax

Moscow is ready to restart peace talks with Ukraine but has yet to receive a response to its latest proposals, Interfax news agency cited Russia’s chief negotiator as saying.

Vladimir Medinsky said Kyiv was to blame for the lack of progress.

Since intermittent talks between the two sides were held in March, including a high-profile meeting of delegations in Istanbul, negotiations between Russia and Ukraine have stalled.

In war-damaged Irpin, Macron praises Ukrainian ‘heroism’

Macron praises Ukrainian “heroism” in the face of Russia’s invasion while visiting Irpin.

“It’s here … that the Ukrainians stopped the Russian army descending onto Kyiv,” the French leader said. “It represents the heroism of the army, but also of the Ukrainian population,” he said, adding that there are signs of war crimes following “massacres” by Russian forces.

Responding to a question on his previous remarks that Russia must not be humiliated, Macron said “we stand with the Ukrainians without ambiguity. Ukraine must resist and win”.

EU leaders visit Irpin

Three European leaders are visiting war-scarred Kyiv’s suburb of Irpin, where residential buildings and civilian infrastructure were damaged by Russian troops’ attempts early in the invasion to capture the capital.

Nearly 300 civilians were found in the district after Russian forces withdrew from the area at the end of March.

French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi visit Irpin, as Russia's attack on Ukraine continues, near Kyiv, Ukraine
French President Macron, German Chancellor Scholz, and Italian Prime Minister Draghi visit Irpin [Marko Djurica/Reuters]

Fighting continues in Severodonetsk

Heavy fighting continues in Severodonetsk, Luhansk, where an estimated 1,000 civilians are sheltering inside the Azot chemical plant, Al Jazeera’s Charles Stratford reported.

Interfax news agency quoted a separatist leader as saying that Russia-backed forces will reopen a humanitarian corridor for those civilians.

Leonid Pasechnik, head of the self-proclaimed Luhansk People’s Republic, said separatist forces had entered the plant but had been unable to dislodge Ukrainian fighters from the factory.

‘A message of unity’

“It’s an important moment. It’s a message of unity we’re sending to the Ukrainians, of support, to talk both about the present and the future, since the coming weeks, as we know, will be very difficult,” Macron said as he arrived in Kyiv. Soon after his arrival, together with Draghi and Macron, air raid sirens sounded in the city.

BFM TV said the leaders were headed to Irpin, where Ukraine says Russia committed large-scale atrocities. Russia denies the allegations.

Romania’s president arrives in Kyiv

Romanian President Iohannis is now in Kyiv, joining the three other European leaders.

Iohannis wrote on Twitter that he was there to show his “full solidarity” with Ukraine and that the “illegal Russian aggression must stop!”

Weaponry to EU membership: Three leaders to discuss a range of topics in Kyiv

Al Jazeera’s Charles Stratford, reporting from Kyiv, said the visit of the three European leaders is important to address a wide range of issues, from weapons delivery to Ukraine’s EU membership.

“Germany has come under criticism by Ukraine and Eastern European NATO members for what they say was foot-dragging on the supply of German weapons to Ukraine,” Stratford said. “There has been a delivery of German anti-aircraft tanks, but a plan for Germany to supply Eastern European NATO members with relatively new German kits, so they can supply Ukraine with old soviet heavy weaponry for which Ukrainians wouldn’t need training for, has not been implemented yet,” he said.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz is escorted as he arrives at the Kyiv train station, Thursday, June 16, 2022. French President Emmanuel Macron Prime Minister Mario Draghi and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz are expected to meet with Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy as they prepare for a key European Union leaders' summit in Brussels next week and a June 29-30 NATO summit in Madrid.
German Chancellor Scholz is escorted as he arrives at the Kyiv railway station [Ludovic Marin/AP Photo]

France has also not been spared criticism in the past months, Stratford noted, after Macron said Russia should not be humiliated if there was going to be a potential diplomatic settlement to the war.

Another talking point will concern Ukraine joining the EU, especially in light of an EU leaders’ summit in Brussels next week: “[Germany and France] are also accused of being reluctant to grant Ukraine that candidacy status,” Stratford said, adding that France used “ambiguous language” over the creation of a European political community Ukraine can join as full EU membership would take years.

Russia not considering withdrawing from WTO

Russia is not considering dropping out of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), the Interfax news agency reported citing a deputy Russian foreign minister.

The diplomat’s comment came a month after the Russian Duma’s Deputy Speaker Pyotr Tolstoy said Moscow was starting to unilaterally withdraw from a series of international bodies, including the WTO.

France wants Ukraine victory that establishes full territorial integrity: source

A French diplomatic source has told Reuters that France wants a Ukrainian military victory against Russia that reestablishes the territorial integrity of the country, including Crimea, which was seized by Russia in 2014.

The source added it was up to Zelenskyy to define what a military victory could be.

Scholz vows support for Ukraine for ‘as long as necessary’

The German leader, now in the capital, Kyiv, pledges enduring support for Ukraine, along with Draghi and Macron.

“We want to show not only solidarity but also assure that the help that we’re organising – financial, humanitarian … weapons – will continue,” Scholz told Bild daily. “And that we will continue it as long as it is necessary for Ukraine’s fight” against Moscow, he said.

The chancellor added that EU sanctions imposed on Russia “contribute to the chance that Russia will abandon its plan and withdraw its troops – because that’s the goal”.

German rocket launchers to be delivered to Kyiv by August: Minister

Three multiple-rocket launchers that Germany pledged to Kyiv can be delivered in July or August after Ukrainian troops have been trained on the weapons, Germany’s defence minister has said.

“The training on these multiple-rocket launchers can begin at the end of June, meaning they can be delivered at the end of July or the start of August,” Christine Lambrecht told reporters as she arrived for a second day of talks with her NATO counterparts in Brussels.

‘An important moment’: Macron, Sholz and Draghi in Kyiv

The French president, German chancellor and the Italian prime minister have arrived in Kyiv, Macron’s office has said.

The three leaders are on their way to meet Zelenskyy in what Macron told reporters was “an important moment”.

The French president said he would pass on the message of “European solidarity” to Zelenskyy.

Russia-US relations at ‘zero’: Kremlin

Russian-American relations are at “zero”, the Kremlin’s spokesman has told RIA news agency.

Dmitry Peskov said there was virtually no dialogue between the two countries.

Russia losing advantage in fight for key towns: UK

For both Russian and Ukrainian forces, fighting for key towns and cities such as Severodonetsk is “devolving to small groups of troops typically operating on foot,” the UK’s defence ministry has said.

“Some of Russia’s strengths, such as its advantage in numbers of tanks, become less relevant in this environment,” which is “likely contributing to its continued slow rate of advance,” the ministry said in an intelligence briefing on Twitter.

It also said the situation continues to be “extremely difficult” for Ukraine’s forces and civilians who remain on the east side of the Siverskyi Donets river in Severodonetsk. This is because all bridges linking the city with Ukrainian-held territory “have now highly likely been destroyed”.

Air strike kills six in Sumy overnight: Governor

An overnight Russian air-launched rocket strike hit a suburb of the northern Ukrainian city of Sumy, killing four and wounding six, the region’s governor has said.

Dmytro Zhyvytskyy did not specify the target of the strike on the suburb of Sad.

He said another rocket strike hit the Dobropillia district, which lies next to the Russian border, at 5am on Thursday, followed by 26 mortar rounds fired from across the border.

Macron, Scholz and Draghi on their way to Kyiv

The leaders of France, Germany and Italy have taken the night train to Kyiv, Italian daily La Repubblica has reported.

France’s ambassador to Kyiv, Etienne de Poncins, published on his Twitter account a photo taken in the Repubblica paper of the three leaders in a train en route to Ukraine’s capital.

Kyiv has criticised France, Germany and, to a lesser extent, Italy, for alleged foot-dragging in their support for Ukraine, accusing them of being slow to deliver weapons and of putting their own prosperity ahead of Ukraine’s freedom and security.

Russia, US must discuss nuclear treaty extension: Kremlin spokesman

Russia and the United States must discuss the extension of the START nuclear arms reduction treaty, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told the RIA news agency.

The matter was important for global security and Russia’s military operation in Ukraine was no reason to avoid its discussion, Peskov added.

Russia and the US hold more than 90 percent of the world’s nuclear weapons.

Romanian port becomes key transit hub for Ukrainian grain

The Black Sea port in the Romanian city of Constanta has become one of the main transit hubs for Ukrainian grain exports. Ukraine is racing to export about 20 million tonnes of grain stuck in its silos in time to accommodate the harvest of its new crops, which is set to start next month.

“Before the war, there was absolutely no Ukrainian cereal transiting the Constanta port. Now, it amounts to approximately 30 percent of our activity,” said Dan Dolghin, director of the cereal operation at Comvex, one of the main grain operators in the Constanta port.

Read more here.

The Meritius ship, with a capacity of 30.000 tons, was loaded with Ukrainian corn for export at Comvex, one of the main cereal operators in the Constanta port. The loading operation took 23 hours with rainy weather conditions slowing down the loading rhythm
The 30,000-tonne Meritius was loaded with Ukrainian corn for export at Comvex, one of the main cereal operators at Constanta. The loading operation took 23 hours with rainy weather slowing the loading [Alexandra Radu/Al Jazeera]

Jailed Putin critic confirms move to maximum-security prison

Russia’s opposition politician Alexey Navalny has confirmed that he is now in a maximum-security prison after his allies raised an alarm on Tuesday that he had been transferred from the prison where he was serving his sentence to an unknown location.

Navalny wrote on Telegram that he was moved to the IK-6 prison in the Vladimir region village of Melekhovo, about 250 kilometres east of Moscow.

“My space travel continues,” Navalny wrote on Wednesday. “I’ve moved from ship to ship.” He said he was confined in a “strict regime” and in quarantine, but didn’t say why or what his conditions were.

Japan’s Zipair ditching ‘Z’ logo

Japan’s low-cost airline, Zipair Tokyo, has said it will replace its logo featuring the letter “Z” to avoid confusion after the letter became a symbol of Russia’s so-called “special military operation” in Ukraine, the Japan Times reports.

Shingo Nishida, president of the Japan Airlines subsidiary told reporters some people might see the current logo, which appears on the aircraft tail, as indicating that the company approves of Russia’s invasion.

The new logo will be a geometric pattern in green, black and white, the company said.

Jetstar Japan, Spring Japan and ZipAir aircraft at Narita international airport in Japan.
Jetstar Japan, Spring Japan and ZipAir aircraft at Narita International Airport in Narita, east of Tokyo, Japan, on June 30, 2021 [Maki Shiraki/Reuters]

UN says essential services running out in Severodonetsk: BBC

Essential supplies are running out for the thousands of civilians trapped in Severodonetsk, many sheltering in the Azot chemical plant, the UN warns.

“The lack of water and sanitation is a big worry … people cannot survive for long without water,” UN Humanitarian Affairs Office spokesman Saviano Abreu told the BBC.

He said food supplies and health provisions were also running out in Severodonetsk, adding that continued fighting meant the organisation and its agencies cannot reach civilians still there – including women, children and the elderly.

The governor of Luhansk has said approximately 12,000 civilians remain in the city, with about 500 sheltering at the Azot plant with some Ukrainian fighters.

German energy regulator says Gazprom cuts could spell trouble in winter

Russian Gazprom’s move to cut gas supplies to Germany is a warning signal for Europe’s biggest economy next winter, the head of Germany’s Bundesnetzagentur energy regulator says.

Gazprom on Wednesday announced a further cut in the amount of gas it can pump through the Nord Stream 1, meaning the pipeline will run at just 40 percent capacity.

Asked if he feared Russia was serious about freezing gas supplies, regulator chief Klaus Mueller told the Rheinische Post daily: “It has so far been Russia’s logic to want to continue selling gas to Germany. But we can’t rule anything out.”

US military package includes 18 howitzers, two coastal defence systems

The $1bn package of US military aid for Ukraine announced on Wednesday includes 18 howitzers and 36,000 rounds of ammunition, as well as 18 tactical vehicles to tow the howitzers.

The US will also send ammunition for the High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS) it previously announced; four tactical vehicles to recover equipment; spare parts and other equipment; two harpoon coastal defence systems; and thousands of secure radios, night vision devices, thermal sights and other optics.

Ukraine’s presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak said on Monday Kyiv needs 1,000 howitzers, 500 tanks and 1,000 drones, among other heavy weapons. In addition, Zelenskyy has called for more modern anti-missile systems.

The total cost of the US package includes $350m in rapid, off-the-shelf deliveries by the Pentagon and $650m in other longer-term purchases. All combined, the US has now committed about $6.3bn in security assistance to Ukraine since the beginning of the Biden Administration, including approximately $5.6bn since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24.

Food crisis to drive global displacement to ‘staggering’ level: UN refugee chief

A food security crisis stoked by the Ukraine war is set to push more people to flee their homes in poorer countries, driving record levels of global displacement even higher, the head of the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) says.

A report by the UN body shows that some 89.3 million people were forcibly displaced worldwide as a result of persecution, conflict, abuse and violence at the end of 2021. Since then, millions more have fled Ukraine or been displaced within its borders, with price hikes linked to blocked grain exports set to stoke more displacement elsewhere.

“If you have a food crisis on top of everything I have described – war, human rights, climate – it will just accelerate the trends I’ve described in this report,” Filippo Grandi told journalists on Monday during a news conference under embargo, describing the figures as “staggering”.

Grandi also criticised what he called a “monopoly” of resources given to Ukraine, which should not “make us forget other crises,” he said, mentioning a two-year-old conflict in Ethiopia and a drought in the Horn of Africa.

Zelenskyy in ‘constant’ talks with UK’s Johnson

Zelenskyy is in “constant contact” with United Kingdom Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Ukraine’s president has said, after the two shared a phone call on Wednesday.

“Coordinated positions on the eve of important international events. Discussed the situation on the battlefield, Ukraine’s defence needs and threats to food security,” he said in a tweet.

Johnson said the G7 and NATO summits later this month were an opportunity to demonstrate the West’s unity and resolve to support Ukraine for the long term, according to a statement from his office.

“The continued determination of Ukrainian forces to win is evident to the entire world, and Ukraine can count on the UK’s full and steadfast support until its eventual victory,” the statement said.

Albania, Montenegro PMs visit Kyiv

The prime ministers of Albania and Montenegro visited Kyiv on Wednesday to meet Zelenskyy in a show of solidarity for Ukraine.

The prime minister of North Macedonia, Dimitar Kovacevski, joined Albania’s Edi Rama and Montenegro’s Dritan Abazovic by video link. The leaders put together a statement in support of Ukraine becoming a candidate state for European Union membership.

The three western Balkan nations are officially candidates for EU membership but progress on ascension has been stalled amid regional issues.

“Our states – Ukraine, the Republic of Albania, Montenegro and the Republic of North Macedonia – must become full members of the EU. And we agree that our countries are not competitors on this European path, they complement and strengthen each other’s capabilities,” Zelenskyy said.

No immediate need for additional Ukraine aid from Congress: White House

The White House does not believe it currently needs an additional Ukraine aid package from the US Congress after just tapping a recently approved $40bn measure.

“I don’t think we’re there yet,” John Kirby, National Security Council coordinator for strategic communications, told reporters on Wednesday.

Russia’s first deputy PM says rouble overvalued: Tass

Russian First Deputy Prime Minister Andrei Belousov says the rouble is overvalued and industry would be more comfortable if it fell to between 70 to 80 against the US dollar from the current 57, the state-owned Tass news agency has said.

Belousov, speaking to the agency in an interview, said year-on-year Russian inflation by the end of the year would be somewhere around 15 percent. As of June 10, it was 16.69 percent.

NATO weapons depot destroyed near Poland border: Russia

The Russian military said it used long-range missiles to destroy a depot in the western Lviv region of Ukraine where ammunition for NATO-supplied weapons was stored.

Near the border with NATO-member Poland, Russian forces used high-precision Kalibr missiles to destroy the depot near the town of Zolochiv, Russian Defence Ministry Spokesperson Igor Konashenkov said.

Konashenkov said shells for M777 howitzers, a type supplied by the US, were stored there. He said four howitzers were destroyed elsewhere and Russian air raids also destroyed Ukrainian “aviation equipment” at a military aerodrome in the southern Mykolaiv region.

Ukrainian officials did not immediately comment.

German, French, Italian leaders expected in Kyiv to signal solidarity

The leaders of the European Union’s three biggest countries, Germany, France and Italy, are expected in Kyiv on Thursday to show their backing for Ukraine.

The visit by German leader Scholz, French President Macron, and Italian Prime Minister Draghi has taken weeks to organise with the three looking to overcome criticism within Ukraine over their response to the war.

“We are at a point when we need to send clear political signals, us Europeans, towards Ukraine and its people when it is resisting heroically,” said Macron, without giving details.

The trip, which has not been announced for security reasons, comes a day before the European Commission makes a recommendation on Ukraine’s status as an EU candidate, something the biggest European nations have been lukewarm about.

Ukraine ignores Russian ultimatum to surrender in Severodonetsk

Ukraine has ignored a Russian ultimatum to surrender the eastern city of Severodonetsk, which now largely lies in ruins after weeks of heavy bombardment.

Russia told Ukrainian forces holed up in a chemical plant there to lay down their arms. Ukraine says more than 500 civilians, including 40 children, remain alongside soldiers inside the Azot chemical factory.

Moscow said it opened a humanitarian corridor from Azot to allow civilians to escape to Russian-controlled territory. It accused Ukraine’s forces of disrupting that plan and using civilians as human shields, which Kyiv denied.

West must stay focused on Ukraine: Pentagon chief

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was at a “pivotal” moment and the US and its allies cannot lose focus on the three-month-long conflict, US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has said.

Austin was speaking at a meeting of dozens of defence ministers on the sidelines of a NATO ministerial gathering.

“We can’t afford to let up and we can’t lose steam. The stakes are too high,” Austin said at the start of the meeting in Brussels. “Ukraine is facing a pivotal moment on the battlefield … Russia is using its long-range fires to try to overwhelm Ukrainian positions.”

You can read all updates for June 15 here.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies